Suicides on Pine Ridge demand solutions

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Pine Ridge Reservation’s intensifying suicide epidemic was examined in a recent New York Times article. Reporter Julie Bosman told the deeply saddening stories of young Natives who have taken their own lives and spoke with tribal members grappling with the monumental task of finding a solution.

Since December, nine people between the ages of 12 and 24 have committed suicide on Pine Ridge. According to the federal Indian Health Service, another 103 attempted that same grave feat.

To students on the reservation, the topic of suicide has become a permanent fixture in the world around them. “It’s just a common thing,” said 15-year-old Myra Slow Bear to the New York Times.

While five suicides in 2013 shook the reservation, the current rate is reason for panic. In February, Oglala Sioux tribe president John Yellow Bird Steele declared a state of emergency in hopes of receiving increased help with addressing the problem.

Currently, just six mental health professionals are at work on the reservation that is estimated to house up to 40,000 Natives. This is severely disproportionate considering the gravity of the issue that baffles the tribal leaders.

“When you have a good understanding of what’s happening, come back and tell me,” said Steele to the New York Times.

The goal of many on the reservation is to reach an understanding to this elusive dilemma. Families, school officials, and tribal leaders alike are united to find the root cause of such steep disparities, and further, create a permanent solution.

Cyber  bulling has been pinpointed as a contributing factor towards feelings of depression and hopelessness present within many of Pine Ridge’s youth. From kids encouraging each other’s suicides to the spread of “how-to” noose making videos, social media has the potential to be a toxic place for many on the reservation.

Stephanie Schweitzer Dixon, executive director of the Front Porch Coalition for suicide prevention, describes a domino effect that can occur in areas where teen suicide is prevalent.

Behind all of this lies the reality of oppression that is experienced by Native Americans. Historical stifling of cultural expression and economic opportunity has led to epidemics of drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, and domestic violence for which the United States government has not taken due responsibility.

While conditions are bleak on the reservation, the determination to turn things around is contagious. Native youth stand at the front line of this effort.

From kids such as Janay Jumping Eagle, taking part in the Generation Indigenous Native youth challenge, to artists like Nataanii Means, who wish to inspire change through creative outlets, there is a great force being put into the spread of positivity and strength on reservations.

The Lakota People’s Law Project is all too aware of problems such as teen suicide which plague many Native reservations. We are committed to bringing federal attention to such issues and working with tribes to reach a better place.


10 thoughts on “Suicides on Pine Ridge demand solutions”

  1. The same happens in Belfast and all over the North. The young people also appear to be taking drugs. It appears to be viral across communities.

    1. With all due respect to similar circumstances, but your responses hear well all the same to another thread?

  2. No child deserves to live in such unhappiness that he/she sees no other way than to end his/her life. There is simply no excuse for letting this happen and adults responsible for the suffering of these children should be taken to justice.

  3. We need to address the prevalence of trauma if we want to promote healing. There is historic trauma, intergenerational trauma, trauma from domestic violence, substance abuse, and sudden bereavement. We need community healing and trauma-informed classrooms that build on strengths and values and bring hope and healing. We need to provide family therapy instead of removing children from their homes and provide culturally-appropriate and timely opportunities for recovery from substance abuse. We need to turn around stereotypes so kids don’t see their futures as bleak. Bert: Some of the adults responsible for this suffering have been well-intentioned but misguided social workers, teachers, and judges. Many of the parents that are responsible for suffering were not given the oppportunity to to heal from their own trauma. They do not need incarceration in most instances. The need healing and wrap-around supports to help them see how their actions adversely impact their children and then they need the help to deal with their own trauma. We know strategies that work well in tribal communities (filial play therapy is one), but there need to be culturally-informed therapists to help, trauma and culturally-informed teachers, and a core of the community committed to wellness willing to work with them. That takes having enough funding for the interventions needed immediately and for the long-term training and development for long-term positive outlooks.

    1. It is no small thing, to go from their natural state into a political to significant Charter. It seems that everything is about money? America native Indians seemingly doomed to sacrifice their lives for all presidents authoritarianism. Why are these great men so paltry?

  4. Do you have a program where I can support or adopt a Lakota child or elder. I am able to provide clothing and Scholl materials for them in need. I’m from Harrisburg, Pa I can ship as the needs are requested.

  5. I believe in any other demographic sector, this would be raising panic. 6 mental professionals for over 40,000 with these problems is gross negligence.

  6. These young people need to be educated on the options available to them. I know people from this reservation who have left when they were very young to start a life with hope and a future. Some have moved back later, some have stayed in their new homes. They need to know that suicide is not the answer. They need to be given the option to leave the reservation if they feel that life is unbearable for them. Most large cities have Indian Centers that can help with information on relocation. Of course, more mental health services and more jobs on the reservation is needed, but that will take time. But, the option of allowing them to seek help to move to a different environment, such as Boystown, relatives in other areas, and other housing options could be put in place immediately.

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